If you’ve ever worked with a therapist, there’s a good chance that, in addition to being asked “how does that make you feel,” you’ve been prompted to think about your values. There is increasing recognition that focusing on values, rather than goals, is the key to creating a more fulfilling life.
When we are solely focused on goals, we’re living an achievement-driven life, which though shiny on the outside, often leaves people feeling quite empty on the inside. When we shift our focus to include our values, we start moving towards a more meaning-driven life. But what exactly are values, and how are they different from goals?
Goals are things that can be checked off a list: go to graduate school, move to a particular city, buy a home, get married, write a book, etc. A goal is a destination, once you get there, you’re done. On to the next goal.
Values are principles for how you live your life and what matters to you. Values are like a compass helping us to continually move in the direction of what gives our lives meaning. They can never be checked off a list because they are about how you move through the world rather than the destination. A value can be in service of a goal, but it will continue on with you even after any particular goal gets checked off your list.
In pursuit of goals, we’re often so anxious about getting there that we make the journey miserable. So even though we’re excited to finally reach our destination, we arrive there stressed, exhausted, lonely, etc.
If we can try to infuse values into our process, we can find meaning in the process itself. This is particularly important because sometimes we don’t achieve the goal. If we haven’t been moving towards that goal in a values-based way, then all we will see is failure. But if we have been embodying our values on the journey, even if we don’t get what we want, we will feel good about the way we engaged in the process and will have gained positive experiences along the way.
Imagine that you are focused on finding a romantic partner and getting married. That is a goal because we can check it off the list. But if we frame our happiness around that goal, we create a set-up where we cannot be happy until it happens, versus being happy while we’re in pursuit of it.
But if you’re single, you probably won’t get married tomorrow or even next year, so how can you be happy and fulfilled even before you reach the altar?
First, let’s extract the value from the goal.
If your goal is marriage, then perhaps what really matters to you is building a meaningful connection with someone — being fully present and vulnerable with someone else.
So if meaningful connection is a value, how can you start to build that into your daily life right now? Are there friends you have lost touch with? Is there a family member you’d like to forge a closer bond with? Would you like to mentor a teen in need? What can you do NOW that can bring more connection into your life?
I’ve learned that when we want something, the best way to attract it is to find ways to embody it now. Like attracts like. If you want connection, work on fostering more connection. If you believe that meaningful connection is possible for you, you will attract more of it. And this way, as you move along your journey towards the altar, you can have some of your needs met and feel good about the way you’re living.
We can take this a different direction. Maybe your desire for marriage is about feeling a sense of stability and security in your life. That’s a value!
What kind of things can you do NOW that can foster that sense of stability in your life? Maybe it’s starting to put a little more money in your 401k. Maybe it’s buying a home (if that is available to you). It could also look like fostering trusting relationships with people you can rely on in good and bad. This means that being guided by a principle of stability would encourage you to engage in your relationships in a trustworthy and reliable way. Not only will you feel good about how you’re showing up for people, but you will attract more of this from others.
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3 STEPS TO START LIVING A MORE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE TODAY